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Ritual Purity Laws of Judaism, Table of Contents

 

 

Laws of Religion

Laws of Judaism

Concerning Ritual Purity and Cleanliness

 

8.† Purity for Meals and Prayer

 

Jewish Law (Halakha) from the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah)

 

(Editorís note: While there are numerous laws concerning ritual purity in Judaism, only certain specific practices based on these laws are observed today, as explained in the Introduction to this section. Ritual purity laws whose procedures are still followed today are so noted in our summaries.)

 

Washing one's hands before prayer or, when required, before a meal is based on rulings of the Sages rather than resting directly on the authority of the Torah.[1] Washing one's hands up to the wrists[2] and drying them[3] is required before and after eating bread or food that is dipped in a liquid or that requires a blessing, even if the hands are not dirty.[4] (Editor's note: The washing of hands before eating bread that is blessed is still observed in our time.)

 

It is considered arrogant to wash one's hands before eating fruit. Washing the hands is necessary after eating bread with salt.[5] A single hand washing in the morning will suffice for all the meals of the day as long as the intention to utilize the earlier washing for future meals is kept in mind the whole time.[6]

 

A ritually impure person only has to wash his hands before praying; total immersion in an immersion pool (mikvah) to make oneself ritually pure is not necessary before prayer.[7] However, oneís hands, face and feet are to be washed before reciting the morning prayer.[8] If there is no water available, rubbing the hands with pebbles, earth or wood is sufficient prior to any prayer.[9]

 

When praying outside of the Land of Israel, one faces the Land of Israel; when in the Land of Israel, one faces Jerusalem; when in Jerusalem, one faces the Temple.[10]

 

Prayer is not to be conducted where urine or feces are present, in a privy (even one clean of fecal matter), in a bathhouse, in a graveyard or near a corpse.[11] Prayers said in a place where prayer is not permitted must be repeated in a permitted place.[12]

 

A prayer said when a person feels the need to defecate is an abomination and invalid as prayer. First he should relieve himself, and then pray. Phlegm, mucus and other possible distractions should also be removed before prayer begins.[13] Prayer should be suspended when gas is passed from the anus until the odor is gone.[14] There is no harm done by involuntary belching, yawning or sneezing while praying but committing such actions voluntarily is a cause for blame. Excess saliva that arises while praying should be deposited on oneís clothing or prayer shawl or, if this is not agreeable, it is to be thrown behind oneself by hand.[15]

 

While it is required to say prayers and blessings even when one is in a state of ritual impurity, a naked man may not recite prayers or blessings without covering his private parts.[16] A naked woman may recite blessings if she is sitting with her private parts toward the ground.[17] In addition to covering his genitals, a man is also to cover his heart when praying, but if he fails to do so the prayer is still valid.[18] (Editorís note: A footnote in the Moznaim translation of the Mishneh Torah cites the Shulchan Aruch as saying that, in addition to covering his genitals, a man must have his head covered and also must have a separation between his heart and his genitals when reciting a blessing.[19] This is based on the idea that a manís heart should not be able to ďseeĒ his nakedness at this time, so a cloth or other separation is required.[20]) Beyond the absolute minimum requirements for a valid prayer, Maimonides says that one should wear the appropriate clothing for prayer, neatly arranged, with oneís head covered, not in oneís undershirt and, if it is the custom to wear shoes before important local personages, not barefoot. The Sages and their students all observed the custom of praying only when wrapped in a prayer shawl.[21]

 

It is required to turn one's face away from any naked person when praying. This includes any part of a woman's body. Even looking at one's wife is forbidden if a handbreadth of her body is visible.[22] Prayer in the courtyard of a bathhouse is acceptable because the people there are clothed.[23]

 

The prayer of a person who is drunk is an abomination and invalid because the drunk person lacks the intention necessary for valid prayer. The prayer must be repeated when the person is sober. A person should not pray even if he is only slightly drunk, but in that circumstance his prayer is valid.[24]

 

Any ritually impure person, even a menstruating woman or a non-Jew, is permitted to hold and read a Torah scroll. If their hands are soiled or muddy, they should wash them before touching the Torah scroll.[25]

________________

 

Laws of Religion is a project of the Religion Research Society.

 

Updated October 16, 2016

 

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Abbreviations used in footnotes:

Gen: The Biblical book of Genesis.

Exod: The Biblical book of Exodus.

Lev: The Biblical book of Leviticus.

Num: The Biblical Book of Numbers.

Deut: The Biblical Book of Deuteronomy.

MT:† The Mishneh Torah of Maimonides (Code of Maimonides). The names of the specific books and treatises within each book are given according to the Yale University Press translation and also the Moznaim/Touger Hebrew transliterations to facilitate locating the texts posted here.

F:† indicates page numbers in the Feldheim Publishers, Ltd., translation of Book 1 of the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides, the Book of Knowledge.

M:† indicates page numbers in the relevant volume of the Moznaim Publishing Corporationís Touger translation. (Some of the books of Mishneh Torah are published in several volumes by Moznaim, so the Moznaim volume numbers do not correspond to the Book numbers of Maimonidesí work.)

Y: †indicates page numbers in the translation of the Yale University Press Judaica Series.

●† The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Judaism.

 



[1] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 5 on Blessings, Berachot; Chapter 6, sec 2 (pages 100-102M 137-138Y); MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 8 on Immersion Pools, Chapter 11, sec 1 (page 532Y)

[2] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 5 on Blessings, Berachot; Chapter 6, sec 4 (pages 104M 138Y)

[3] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 5 on Blessings, Berachot; Chapter 6, sec 20 (pages 118M 141Y)

[4] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 5 on Blessings, Berachot; Chapter 6, sec 1 (pages 100M 137Y); MT Book 3, The Book of Seasons, Sefer Zemanim; Treatise 1 on The Sabbath, Shabbat (Shabbos); Chapter 29, sec 7 (pages 320M 187-188Y); sec 9 (pages 322M 188Y)

[5] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 5 on Blessings, Berachot; Chapter 6, sec 3 (pages 102-104M 138Y)

[6] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 5 on Blessings, Berachot; Chapter 6, sec 17 (pages 116M 140Y)

[7] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 1 on The Shema, Kriíat Shema; Chapter 3, sec 1 (pages 52-54M 9Y); Chapter 4, sec 8 (pages 86-90M 14-15Y); MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 2 on Prayer and Priestly Blessing, Tefilah uíVirkat Cohanim; Chapter 4, secs 4-5 (pages 158-162M 26-27Y); MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 5 on Blessings, Berachot; Chapter 1, sec 9 (pages 18-20M 122Y)

[8] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 2 on Prayer and Priestly Blessing, Tefilah uíVirkat Cohanim; Chapter 4, sec 3 (pages 156-158M 26Y)

[9] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 1 on the Shema, Kriíat Shema; Chapter 3, sec 1 (pages 52-54M 9Y); Treatise 2 on Prayer and Priestly Blessing, Tefilah uíVirkat Cohanim; Chapter 4, secs 1-2 (pages 154-156M 25-26Y)

[10] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 2 on Prayer and Priestly Blessing, Tefilah uíVirkat Cohanim; Chapter 5, sec 3 (pages 182-184M 30Y)

[11] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 1 on the Shema, Kriíat Shema; Chapter 3, secs 2-4 (pages 54-56M 9-10Y); MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 2 on Prayer and Priestly Blessing, Tefilah uíVirkat Cohanim; Chapter 4, sec 8 (pages 164M 27Y)

[12] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 1 on the Shema, Kriíat Shema; Chapter 3, sec 2 (pages 54M 9Y); MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 2 on Prayer and Priestly Blessing, Tefilah uíVirkat Cohanim; Chapter 4, sec 9 (pages 164-166M 27Y)

[13] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 2 on Prayer and Priestly Blessing, Tefilah uíVirkat Cohanim; Chapter 4, sec 10 (pages 166-168M 27-28Y)

[14] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 1 on the Shema, Kriíat Shema; Chapter 3, sec 14 (pages 68M 11-12Y); MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 2 on Prayer and Priestly Blessing, Tefilah uíVirkat Cohanim; Chapter 4, secs 11-12 (pages 168-170M 28Y)

[15] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 2 on Prayer and Priestly Blessing, Tefilah uíVirkat Cohanim; Chapter 4, sec 11 (pages 168-170M 28Y)

[16] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise I on The Shema, Kriíat Shema; Chapter 2, sec 7 (pages 38 M 7Y); Chapter 3, sec 17 (pages 72M 12Y); MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 2 on Prayer and Priestly Blessing, Tefilah uíVirkat Cohanim; Chapter 4, sec 1 (pages 154M 25Y); Chapter 4, sec 7 (pages 162-164M 27Y); MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 5 on Blessings, Berachot; Chapter 1, sec 9 (pages 18-20M 122Y)

[17] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 5 on Blessings, Berachot; Chapter 1, sec 9 (pages 18-20M 122Y)

[18] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 2 on Prayer and Priestly Blessing, Tefilah uíVirkat Cohanim; Chapter 4, sec 1 (pages 154M 25Y); Chapter 4, sec 7 (pages 162-164M 27Y)

[19] Note on page 20M to MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 5 on Blessings, Berachot; Chapter 1, sec 9 (pages 18-20M)

[20] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise I on The Shema, Kriíat Shema; Chapter 3, sec 17 (pages 72M 12Y)

[21] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 2 on Prayer and Priestly Blessing, Tefilah uíVirkat Cohanim; Chapter 5, sec 5 (pages 186-188M 30-31Y)

[22] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 1 on the Shema, Kriíat Shema; Chapter 3, sec 16 (pages 70-72M 12Y); MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 2 on Prayer and Priestly Blessing, Tefilah uíVirkat Cohanim; Chapter 4, sec 8 (pages 164M 27Y)

[23] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 1 on the Shema, Kriíat Shema; Chapter 3, sec 3 (pages 54-56M 9-10Y); MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 2 on Prayer and Priestly Blessing, Tefilah uíVirkat Cohanim; Chapter 4, sec 8 (pages 164M 27Y)

[24] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 2 on Prayer and Priestly Blessing, Tefilah uíVirkat Cohanim; Chapter 4, sec 17 (pages 176M 29Y)

[25] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 3 on Tefillin, Mezuzah and Torah Scroll, Tefillin, UMezuzah, V'Sefer Torah; Chapter 10, sec 8 (pages 188M 109Y)